Earthlife Africa, the environmental lobby group, says the support for nuclear energy contained in the ANC manifesto for this year’s national election contradicts the party’s stated commitment to implementing the National Development Plan (NDP).

According to the manifesto, “both traditional and green energy will be expanded to ensure a platform for growth and social inclusion, including the use of nuclear power for energy generation in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner”.

Additional energy would be generated through the completion of large power stations.

“The pace of oil and gas exploration, including shale gas exploration by the state and other players in the industry, will be intensified as part of the country’s effort to ensure national self-sufficiency and energy security while promoting environmental sustainability,” said the manifesto, which was released by President Jacob Zuma at the weekend.

Tristen Taylor, a project coordinator at Earthlife Africa, said South Africa was at a crossroads. “We need to decarbonise our economy to prevent catastrophic climate change. We also need to burn less coal and gas due to the increasingly apparent health and social costs of these forms of energy.”

He argued that Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, which provide the bulk of the country’s electricity, were a legacy of the apartheid era “and there is no reason why communities near coal-fired power stations should have to endure Eskom’s pollution when cleaner and cheaper alternatives, such as wind, already exist in South Africa”.

A promise to build nuclear power “runs contrary to the latest thinking from the Department of Energy” as well as the National Planning Commission, which drew up the NDP, Taylor said.

“Both… indicate that we don’t need to make a decision on nuclear power for at least two election cycles.”

Earthlife Africa pointed out that the ANC’s current support for new nuclear plants – such as the so-called Nuclear-1 at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape – contradicted the NDP “which indicates that the financial costs of nuclear power may be too great for the country”.

The lobby group said supporting nuclear power was contradictory to the NDP’s goals of poverty alleviation and reduction of social inequality.

The NDP stated that a potential nuclear fleet would involve “a level of investment unprecedented in South Africa”. The plan, driven by Minister for Planning in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, suggested that an in-depth investigation into the viability of nuclear energy “is vital”.

“If the ANC supports the NDP, then it needs to drop its support for nuclear power,” Taylor said.

“For the sake of all South Africans, our politicians must use the opportunity of the elections to put forth bold plans to transform our country’s path into a safer and more sustainable future. Instead, we are hearing more of the same. Continuing on with fossil fuels is a promise for climate change-induced drought, famine, sea level rises and reductions in material welfare for Africans across southern Africa.”

DA energy spokesman Lance Greyling said the manifesto section on energy was “merely a wish list of objectives”.

Nuclear energy was “once again touted” as a solution even though the planning commission and the updated integrated resource plan had “raised serious question marks over the wisdom of following this path”.

While shale gas was mentioned in the manifesto, “it is still unclear how big a resource the country actually has… and whether the flow rates and current water constraints will make it economically viable to extract”, Greyling added.